Technology at the Court: Riley and Aereo

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Category: Federal Law & Legal System, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
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Like the legal profession generally, the United States Supreme Court has a reputation as slow to embrace new technologies. For example, Justice Kagan shared in an interview last year that the Justices rarely use email. Yet at the end of the recent term, the Court decided cases affecting two evolving technologies: cell phones and streaming video services. Unanimous in the judgment in Riley v. California, the Court held that the search incident to arrest doctrine does not allow police officers to search through the contents of an arrestee’s cell phone without obtaining a warrant. In American Broadcasting Companies v. Aereo, the Court concluded that a provider of video streaming services engages in a public performance and infringes copyrights by using dedicated antennae to capture broadcast signals and then transmit them to subscribers over the internet. However, in the opinions in these cases, the Justices seem careful to avoid allowing any personal unfamiliarity with cell phones or with Aereo’s streaming service to affect the quality of their decisions. Instead, the Justices confront the technologies in a pragmatic manner, focusing on the functions easily accessible to average users and avoiding analysis of underlying technological details.

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US Supreme Court Review: Lane v. Franks

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Category: First Amendment, Labor & Employment Law, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
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US Supreme Court logo(This is another post in our series, Looking Back at the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 Term.)

This past year has been another active one for labor and employment law cases at the United States Supreme Court.  Decisions have ranged from public employee free speech to the collection of dues by public-sector unions to the fiduciary duties owed under employee benefits law when a plan fiduciary invests in company stock.   This blog post focuses on the public employee free speech case, Lane v. Franks, No. 13-483 (June 19, 2014), while two subsequent posts will discuss the labor law cases of Harris v. Quinn and NLRB v. Noel Canning, and finally the ERISA case of Fifth Third Bancorp v. DudenhoefferRead more »

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US Supreme Court Review: Constitutional Criminal Cases

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Category: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law & Process, Judges & Judicial Process, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
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(This is another post in our series, Looking Back at the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 Term.)

In my previous post, I discussed the Court’s recent Fourth Amendment decisions.  Here are this term’s other criminal cases that also center on constitutional issues (excluding habeas decisions):

  • Kansas v. Cheever, 571 U.S. __ (2013) (prosecutors could use testimony based on court-ordered mental examination of defendant in order to rebut defendant’s intoxication defense).
  • Hall v. Florida, 572 U.S. __ (2014) (in capital case, state may not categorically limit intellectual disability defense to individuals with an IQ score of 70 or lower — see my earlier post here).
  • Kaley v. United States, 571 U.S. __ (2014) (when trying to overturn pretrial asset freeze affecting funds to be used for legal representation, defendant may not challenge grand jury’s probable cause determination).
  • Martinez v. Illinois, 572 U.S. __ (2014) (after jury empaneled and sworn, judge’s grant of defendant’s motion for “directed findings of not guilty” counted as acquittal for double jeopardy purposes and precluded appeal by state).

A notable recurring theme across this set of decisions is the Court’s desire to maintain a particular competitive balance at criminal trials.

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Chevron and the Hobby Lobby Decision

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Category: Business Regulation, Public, Religion & Law, U.S. Supreme Court
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Hobby Lobby logoThe majority opinion in the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case is founded on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the restrictions it places on the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) when she regulates and enforces the Affordable Care Act (ACA). While the issues raised by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissenting opinion as to the battle of interests protected by the Constitution are significant, an important practical legal issue that was not addressed in the Hobby Lobby case is the power of HHS to interpret the meaning of the ACA. Considering the majority’s reliance on two terms that go undefined by the Court — “sincere religious belief” and “closely held corporation” [see page 29 of the slip opinion and footnote 28] — and the fact that none of the other Hobby Lobby opinions address the meaning of these terms, it is essential that these terms be defined as they fit into the ACA context.

The Court’s failure to address how HHS might interpret the meaning of these terms is reasonable considering that HHS has not acted to interpret the meaning of a “sincere religious belief” or a “closely held corporation” in the context of the ACA. In fact, the majority states explicitly that courts will be able to separate those with “sincere religious beliefs” from those who do not. However, despite the majority’s reference to the ability, and impliedly the power, of courts to interpret the terms “sincere religious beliefs” and “closely held corporations,” terms such as these have been regularly interpreted by federal agencies as they apply to the statutes these agencies enforce. Read more »

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US Supreme Court Review: Fourth Amendment Cases

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Category: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law & Process, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
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US Supreme Court logo(This is another post in our series, Looking Back at the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 Term.)

On the criminal side of the Court’s docket, I found this term’s statutory interpretation cases more interesting than the constitutional cases. In the latter category, the Fourth Amendment decisions were probably the most significant. They were:

  • Fernandez v. California, 571 U.S. __ (2014) (police permissibly conducted warrantless consent search of home notwithstanding objection of one occupant).
  • Prado Navarette v. California, 572 U.S. __ (2014) (anonymous 911 call sufficiently justified stop of vehicle).
  • Riley v. California, 573 U.S. __ (2014) (warrant required for search of arrestee’s cell phone).

In reviewing these three cases, I think the most intriguing comparison is between Fernandez and Riley. The two decisions serve to highlight apparent inconsistencies in the Court’s stance toward search warrants.

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US Supreme Court Review: Should the Court Care How Effective a Statute Is?

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Category: Criminal Law & Process, Federal Criminal Law & Process, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
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US Supreme Court logo(This is another post in our series, Looking Back at the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 Term.)

In my previous post, I noted a number of the considerations that the Supreme Court emphasized in its criminal statutory interpretation cases from the past term. In this post, I will highlight one recurring point of controversy, that is, whether the Court should try to maximize the effectiveness of statutes in achieving their overarching purposes.

Abramski, the firearms purchase case, provides a good illustration.   Read more »

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US Supreme Court Review: Statutory Interpretation in Criminal Cases

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Category: Criminal Law & Process, Federal Criminal Law & Process, Federal Sentencing, Judges & Judicial Process, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
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US Supreme Court OT2013 logo(This is another post in our series, Looking Back at the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 Term.)

In the first post in this series, I discussed two causation cases in some detail.  In this post, I will more briefly summarize the full set of the Court’s criminal statutory interpretation cases from the past term and then offer a few overarching observations.

Here are the cases (excluding habeas corpus decisions):   Read more »

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US Supreme Court Review: Crime and Causation

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Category: Criminal Law & Process, Federal Criminal Law & Process, Federal Sentencing, Judges & Judicial Process, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
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US Supreme Court logo(This is the first post in our series, Looking Back at the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 Term. Other posts, when they appear, can be found here.) The Court’s criminal docket this term included two interesting causation cases that came to somewhat different conclusions. The cases were Burrage v. United States, 134 S. Ct. 881, which dealt with criminal responsibility for a drug-related death, and Paroline v. United States, 134 S. Ct. 1710, which dealt with restitution for a child pornography victim. In both cases, the Court had to grapple with tensions between traditional, narrow understandings of causal responsibility in the law and a natural human desire to hold bad actors accountable for tragic harms with which they seem to have some connection, even if that connection is a tenuous or uncertain one.

Burrage nicely illustrates the tension.   Read more »

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Series: Looking Back at the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 Term

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I’m excited to announce a new summer series here at the Marquette Law Faculty Blog, one in which members of our faculty will be analyzing some of the most important U.S. Supreme Court decisions in their areas from the term that just concluded. Our first post is from Michael O’Hear on Burrage v. United States and Paroline v. United States, two important criminal law cases decided in January and April 2014, respectively. Posts in the series will have titles starting with “US Supreme Court Review.”

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Bond v. United States: SCOTUS Interprets Criminal Statute Narrowly to Preserve Federal-State Balance

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Category: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law & Process, Federalism, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
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In an opinion sure to be cited by many federal criminal defendants for years to come, the Supreme Court yesterday overturned the conviction of Carol Anne Bond under the Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act. Although few defendants are prosecuted under this statute, the Court’s decision in Bond is noteworthy for its approach to the interpretation of federal criminal statutes. The Court adopted a narrow interpretation of the Implementation Act in order to preserve what it called the “usual constitutional balance of federal and state power.” (12) This interpretive principle is not a new one, but the Court applied it in an unusually aggressive fashion in Bond. The opinion is sure to be a favorite of defendants who find themselves prosecuted in federal court for offenses traditionally and routinely handled in state courts.

The underlying facts in Bond were a mix of the mundane and the bizarre.   Read more »

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SCOTUS Strengthens 8th Amendment Protections for Intellectually Disabled

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In 2002, in Atkins v. Virginia, the Supreme Court prohibited capital punishment for defendants who suffered from what the Court then called “mental retardation.” However, the Court did not prescribe any particular process or standards for determining which defendants qualify. Florida adopted a particularly restrictive approach, refusing even to consider the full spectrum of evidence of intellectual limitations if a defendant’s IQ had not been scored 70 or lower. Earlier this week, in Hall v. Florida, the Supreme Court rejected this test for failing to take into account the standard error of measurement (SEM) of IQ tests. “This rigid rule,” Justice Kennedy wrote for a narrow 5-4 majority, “creates an unacceptable risk that persons with intellectual disability will be executed, and thus is unconstitutional.” (Along the way, the Court expressly changed its preferred terminology from “mental retardation” to “intellectual disability.”)

Kennedy’s reference to “unacceptable risk” goes to the heart of the disagreement between the majority and the dissenters.   Read more »

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Why Isn’t Aereo a Cable System?

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Category: Intellectual Property Law, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
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Aereo tiny antennaThe Aereo case was argued this morning, and before Paul Clement could even get rolling on his introduction on behalf of the broadcaster plaintiffs, Justice Sotomayor hit him with this:

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: Why aren’t [companies like Aereo] cable companies?

MR. CLEMENT: They’re not ­­–

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: I’m looking at the — everybody’s been arguing this case as if for sure they’re not. But I look at the definition of a cable company, and it seems to fit.

I’ve been wondering this too. The question presented in Aereo is whether Aereo is engaged in a “public performance” when its servers automatically save and transmit recorded broadcast television programs to subscribers at their request, or whether that activity is properly understood as only the users’ activity. (Scotusblog has a good backgrounder on the case.)

In debating that issue, both the broadcasters and Aereo have at separate points analogized Aereo to a cable system — the broadcasters in the course of claiming that Congress intended to define what Aereo is doing as a “public performance,” just as it did with cable retransmission; Aereo in claiming that it is engaged in disruptive innovation, just as the early cable operators did. But that raises a somewhat different question: why isn’t Aereo subject to Section 111 of the Copyright Act? If it is, then the Court could avoid the entire debate over public performances; the text of Section 111 provides a direct route to liability for certain retransmissions without even mentioning the words “public performance.” And yet, as far as I can tell, it has not been raised by the broadcaster plaintiffs as a basis for a preliminary injunction. Read more »

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